Launch Services： Bringing the Future to Outer Space
Based on the Technology for Manufacturing Rockets, MHI Supports Research and Observations of Outer Space
Technologies developed in space is now very much a part of everyday lives. For example, satellites are instrumental in forecasting weather, monitoring disasters, and observing the global environment, and people on the Earth benefit greatly through having unmanned supply spacecraft (Note) transport essential materials to the International Space Station (ISS).
MHI is one of only a few companies involved in launch programs, from manufacturing to the launching of the rocket -- a critical component for space transport. This article examines how MHI accurately delivers a customer's payload to a target orbit on a target date and time.
- The HTV unmanned supply spacecraft, known as "KOUNOTORI," was independently developed in Japan to transport cargo to the ISS and is carried aloft by the H-IIB launch vehicle.
Providing Integrated Services from Manufacturing to Launch
MHI has played a lead role in rocket manufacturing since the dawn of space development in Japan more than 40 years ago. In 2007, JAXA transferred production and management of the rocket launching business to MHI. At that time, MHI began offering launch services. The comprehensive services include rocket manufacture, program management, and execution of launch campaigns. MHI's deep experience in launch vehicle development and launch operations has given Japan's launch services a competitive edge in the global market. Once MHI receives an order from JAXA, a satellite manufacturer, or a satellite operator, design commences on a rocket best suited for the intended purpose. MHI manufactures most of the major spacecraft components, such as the first- and second-stage rocket engines and fuel tanks. Produced with the utmost precision, each critical piece is continuously examined manually and repeatedly verified against the massive data pool that MHI has accumulated. Coordinating the various steps necessary for a reliable launch enables MHI to complete the missions of launch vehicles without a hitch while reducing costs.
Reaching the Target Orbit at the Specified Time
The airframe of the rocket is transported to the launching site at the Tanegashima Space Center. There, work to ready the launch vehicle for lift-off continues under MHI supervision. The rocket is joined with the fairing that stows a satellite into a single spacecraft. Upon completion of the final inspection, the spacecraft is moved to the launch pad, where it is prepared for the countdown. Taking such factors as weather conditions into consideration, MHI gives the "go" to launch and monitors data until the satellite is separated from the rocket.
MHI has earned a solid reputation for maintaining launch schedules. Aided by extensive expertise in managing large projects with multiple partners, MHI has a record of punctual launches -- launches that aren't rescheduled after the start of launch operations -- except for a small number postponed by weather.
MHI provides a lifeline for the space industry by reliably transporting cargo to the specified location at the specified time.
A New Page in the History of Rocket Development
Japanese rocket development leaped into the global arena in the 1990s with the H-II. A Japanese launch vehicle designed for larger satellites, the H-II had its maiden space voyage in 1994. Development of the next-generation H-IIA a few years later sought to minimize launch costs. Another model, the H-IIB, was developed to carry large-sized cargo, including the HTV. It originally took flight in 2009.
Now, Japanese rocket development has entered a new phase. Upgrades to the H-IIA enabled Japan to meet a diversified range of domestic and overseas satellite launch requirements, as well as enhance the international competitiveness of the launch vehicle. It also marked the first step in a new national flagship launch vehicle currently being developed with a maiden test launch scheduled for 2020. Provisionally named the H-III, this first new rocket in about 30 years targets enhanced cost competitiveness and greater launch capacity flexibility accommodated by adjusting the number of solid fuel rocket boosters.
The H-III will not only benefit the Japanese government but also meet diversified global needs, strengthening MHI's competitiveness in global markets.